Seasonal Affective Disorder and Sleep

Whether it’s waking up and seeing it’s still dark outside or feeling a chill in the air when you pull off your quilt, many of us find getting out of bed harder in the winter. However, for some people, this feeling is intense enough that it can become a mental health issue – these are people who have what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is far more common in autumn and winter, but it can affect people in other seasons too. The condition varies in severity between individuals and can have a huge impact on the quality of a person’s sleep. Here, TEMPUR® explores Seasonal Affective Disorder, providing advice on how to recognise and treat the symptoms.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Scientists are still trying to work out the exact causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder; however, the condition is known to be linked to sunlight and the shortening of days in autumn and winter.

The predominant theory is that the reduced amount of daily sunlight affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This disrupts the production of hormones that control your sleep cycle and emotions. These hormones are:

  • Melatonin – the chemical that makes you feel sleepy; people with Seasonal Affective Disorder may be producing too much of this
  • Serotonin – the hormone that makes you happy; people with Seasonal Affective Disorder may produce less of this, causing depression

These hormonal disturbances can affect your body’s internal clock and lead to symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Winter?

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can vary from mild to severe and, for some people, impact their quality of life significantly.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder differ between individuals; however, these are the most common symptoms:

  • Feeling tired and lethargic in the day
  • Sleeping too much
  • Struggling to fall asleep
  • Continually experiencing low moods
  • Being indifferent to activities you normally enjoy
  • Increased appetite/weight gain
  • Becoming easily agitated

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?

There are several treatments that have been effective in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. Your doctor will be able to advise which treatment may work best for you when you visit them. Courses your doctor may suggest include:

  • Changes to your lifestyle – getting regular exercise, establishing a bedtime routine and increasing the time you spend outside in the daylight should help you to manage any negative emotions or depression caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Light therapy – spending time in front of a special lamp called a light box, which mimics the properties of sunlight, can alleviate symptoms
  • Talking therapies – these are helpful in managing the depression caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Medication – for some people, antidepressants may be required to manage symptoms

If you think you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is important to seek advice from your doctor. You don’t have to face this condition alone.

Sleeping Better with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sleep and mental health are inextricably linked. This means that, if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is crucial to get the best night’s sleep possible. This can be difficult, as the condition often impacts your sleep cycle. However, maximising the quality of your rest can help to alleviate fatigue and other symptoms while you are awake.

Ensure you have a good mattress and pillows to sleep on, so that your bed is comfortable and supportive. Also, be sure to clear your room of stimulating items that may keep you awake. It is especially important that you stay away from electronic screens before bed, as the light they emit can disrupt your sleep cycle further. Finally, try to include exercise in your daily routine; this can help to lift mood and ensure a more restful sleep.


Do you have experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder? Have you got any advice on how to cope with the condition? Share with us in the comments section below…

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